Mike Grant and I are waiting for a table outside Slow's Bar BQ in Corktown, a few minutes outside downtown Detroit. We're not likely to be seated anytime soon—it's the Friday before Movement, and the place is packed—but it's pleasantly crisp outside, and the last of the day's sunlight has cast the buildings on this stretch of Michigan Avenue in warm tones. (The abandoned Michigan Central Station, an 18-story skeleton of a building just around the corner, seems permanently cast in shadow.) The wait also gives us a chance to catch up on a few things we missed in our recent Skype chat. Minus a break a few years back, Grant has spent the last decade and a half releasing music that suits his label's name so well I hadn't even thought to ask how he chose it.
"It's not just about one style of music," he continues. "Sometimes the music is moody, and sometimes it's groovy. So that's where it comes from. It gives you a certain flexibility. There's a wide range that you can get from it. So that's one of the reasons I chose the name. It just happens to be my initials—a lot of people think it's for that, but it's not for that."
When Grant and I meet for dinner, he's dressed casually but smartly, more regular dad than typical dance music label owner. (He and his 12-year-old daughter live in a suburb outside of Detroit.) But when I first saw him in a video chat window, he was wearing fatigues and sitting at a big home-office desk. We'd arranged the call for lunchtime in Berlin, which meant the sun hadn't come up yet where he was. Between his day job in telecommunications, his daughter's school schedule and his commitments to the army, which took him to weapons certification not long after our call, it was the only time he could squeeze it in. These scheduling constraints speak to the peculiar shape of Moods & Grooves' trajectory, and why Grant, despite his peerless connections, is still a relatively underground figure within dance music.
Grant's history in dance music starts in Detroit around 1980, and it was helped along by the especially rich radio waves emanating out of the Midwest. His uncle was the general manager of WKWM, in Grand Rapids, and he passed promotional records to his nephew. His collection attracted the attention of some high school classmates, who suggested he join their nascent DJ group. "We DJ'd with belt drive turntables without pitch control—actually, one belt drive turntable, a receiver, about six home speakers and a tape deck," Grant recalled. "That was our first party as DJs." Eventually he was asked to join his classmate Blake Baxter's crew, which brought him into the fold of the city's burgeoning techno scene, with DJ gigs, a spot on Derrick May's Street Beat show, and friendships with guys like Juan Atkins, who was on the cusp of fame as Model 500.
Looking back on that time, you'd think Grant couldn't have been in a better place to establish a career in techno. But on the ground in 1985, it wasn't clear things would take off. "If only we knew then what we know now," he said. "My mother and my father were kind of pushing me. My mother would say, 'You can't DJ forever!'" And he couldn't really argue with them. His plan all along had been to join the military, which would eventually pay for a college education. "I knew that I was going to get a good foundation to work with later on. I was thinking, maybe I could go DJ wherever I happened to be." So at the end of that year, he shipped off Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Washington.
The Pacific Northwest at that time was effectively a blank slate for house and techno, though some of Grant's army buddies from the East Coast were reasonably well informed. "We kind of tried to introduce house music to the area," he said, "which was a bit of a challenge." He and a friend from Chicago would drive to Seattle to buy records at Penny Lane (now called Easy Street, one of the city's best known music shops) that they themselves suggested the buyers keep in stock. Grant also had his friends in Detroit sending new records from back home, some of which he'd take into Seattle. (This sort of informal promotion and distribution network led to Grant's one brush with the mainstream, however tangential. As Grant tells it, he gave some records to Nasty Nes, the DJ credited with hosting the West Coast's first hip-hop radio show, including Technicolor by Juan Atkins as Channel One. Nasty Nes passed it to a local MC and producer, Sir Mix-A-Lot, who'd sample the cut on his enduring 1992 smash "Baby Got Back.")
While his old friends—Atkins, May, Baxter, Kevin Saunderson, Eddy Fowlkes—were blowing up in a way he and his parents couldn't have imagined, Grant did as well as he could to stay active in dance music. "I had my mother start sending my records to me. I had her send my turntables out, so I was DJing in the barracks." He also played in Seattle clubs whenever he could. Though he remembered locals harboring some suspicion towards house music's unpolished vocals and insistent 4/4 beat, he'd slip more into his sets as the night went on, after people had taken a few more trips to the bar and loosened up.
After his army stint ended in '88, Grant went back to Detroit. He was intent on avoiding an assembly line job in the automotive industry. A year later he moved to Chicago to start an accelerated program in telecommunications. He arrived in the city after its first house music heyday had passed—"I was really crushed to find out WBMX was no longer there," he remembered—but he met Derrick Carter and DJ Sneak and became a Saturday regular at Gramophone Records. "I was there so often, it was like a routine. I'd eat breakfast, clean up the house, then drive down to Chicago. They had this little system where you had to give your ID to listen to something. I was there so often, it was almost like I worked there—I was handing out cartridges and getting licenses from people."
He'd make good use of those Saturday hauls—not in Chicago or Detroit, but on trips abroad. Around '92, after Atkins introduced Grant to his agent, he traveled to London to play the Brixton Academy. "After that, I got back home, and he was like, 'I have a gig for you in Naples.' I was like, 'Cool!'" Then, on a trip back to Detroit, Grant gave a mixtape to some Tresor affiliates, and the Berlin club soon booked him. By the time things snowballed, Grant was working a full-time job. He'd use his vacation days for gigs abroad and leverage overtime into a more flexible schedule. A regular weekend for him might mean flying to Germany after work on Friday, DJing Saturday night, pushing straight through to the airport, arriving home on Sunday and being back at his desk on Monday. He described a particularly hectic swing through Australia: "I went to Sydney, Perth and I think maybe Melbourne on that trip. On the way back, it was a 30-hour journey: five hours from Perth to Sydney. Sydney to LA. LA to Minneapolis. Minneapolis to home. I got home at 1 o'clock in the morning, went to bed about 3 and got up at 7 to go to work."
Yet ultimately it was Grant's general malaise about toiling at a corporation that pushed him to pursue music full-time. When he expressed his frustration to Atkins, his friend asked him, "Why don't you come back home and run Metroplex?" "I thought about it for a while," Grant said, "and I left—left corporate America, moved back to Detroit, ran Metroplex for a little bit. I was in the same building as Submerge"—the Underground Resistance-affiliated record shop, distribution service and recording studio—"so I was able to tap Mike Banks for knowledge." The term began in 1996. Managing Metroplex was obviously a huge inspiration for Moods & Grooves, which he'd launch in 1999, and the label gave Grant his first production credit, on the group Black Noise's 1997 EP Nature Of The Beast. But the position was merely the iceberg-tip of his experiences. He already had the taste and connections to start something on his own, and his education, which had included some business courses, gave him an edge.
"I didn't want it to be a platform for myself," he said. "I wanted it to be a full-service label releasing other artists' music and focusing on Detroit—or at least start out in Detroit and eventually branch out." And Grant stuck to his guns. In 1999 and 2000, Moods & Grooves released ten records, drawing on homegrown talent like Alton Miller, Kenny Dixon Jr., Rick Wade and Anthony 'Shake' Shakir. There was also music from Chicago's Brian Harden, a collaboration from LA producers John Tejada and Arian Leviste, the first of Grant's own EPs and a UK-brewed three-tracker from Mr. G and G. Flame. By 2002, the label's roster would grow to include Theo Parrish, Andrés and Demarkus Lewis, and it had a pair of sublabels, End To End and Afrosyntrix. Mr. G had also more or less signed on as the label's in-house remixer. Grant and Mr. G first connected in a London record shop—the latter commented on the former's Moods & Grooves shirt, and a correspondence began. "He told me that the material I give him inspires to do what he does," Grant said. "There's a connection there."
Throughout the 2000s, Moods & Grooves released steadily, with signings continuing to draw on personal connections within the Detroit scene and a keen sense for new talent. In 2004 Grant gave André Lodemann his first release, and in 2008 Moods & Grooves was one of the first labels to release a Kyle Hall record, the classic The Water Is Fine EP. But in 2011, with Scotland-based American producer Brad Peterson's Midnight Escape, the run seemed to end. "I was at the mobilization site when that came out," Grant explained. He remained in the army reserves during this whole period, first as an infantryman and then as a technical specialist, and he'd been deployed to Afghanistan.
The tour necessitated a break from the label and from music in general, though Grant mentions the joy he experienced playing on a digital setup at army functions with downloaded tracks: "You just don't know how good it felt to get back on and hear some music." (He also sustained some hearing loss on the deployment, and now wears hearing aids.) He always saw the period as merely a pause for Moods & Grooves, and a little less than a year later, he was back home and trying to figure out how to get started again. High asking prices on the collector's market for the label's out-of-print releases were gnawing at him, but he no longer had the original artwork required for full-on represses. Following a discussion with Mr. G., Grant came up with a solution to the label's back-catalog problem that would also reintroduce Moods & Grooves to the market.
The first volume of Moods & Grooves Classics, featuring Andrés's "You're Still The One" (now called "Out In the Open," the name of the EP it had been snipped from) backed with Mr. G.'s remix of "The Struggle Of My People" from Mike Grant's 2001 EP And Then It Was My Turn…, hit shops at the start of 2013, and four more arrived steadily through March of this year. The EPs touched on vintage cuts from KDJ, Rick Wade and Demarkus Lewis, plus music that had only previously come out on CD. The last Classics coincided with the label's 50th catalog number, and Grant pressed the Mr. G. versions of his own "My Soul, My Spirit" and Theo Parrish's "Chunky" to red vinyl for the occasion.
"For the most part, I went through my sales notes and saw which ones were the bestsellers," he explained. "There's where I started. Those folks that I had the best relationship with, that would be cool with it—I asked everyone involved if they wouldn't mind." Grant said the Classics have been so popular that he's had to reissue his reissues. "That first one with Andrés and myself—I mean, I'm still selling copies of it. I just released a repress last week, and I have people come back. 'Do you have any more?'" Grant isn't interested in just running a repress label, though—since returning from Afghanistan, he's continued to seek out new music from close to home and abroad, including returns from Alton Miller, a new Dirt Crew alias called Hidden Spheres and the Romanian trio Lisière Collectif. Plus, he hates the idea of stagnation, of just blasting out the classics in an endless churn. That's the biggest drawback with Detroit these days, he tells me—plenty of DJs want to keep beating "the same thing over and over into people's heads."
In both in our Skype chat and over pulled pork and ribs at Slow's, he expressed ambivalence about keeping up the multitasking that's defined his career for three decades. He said he's frustrated with conservative distributors who, at the expense of the new talent that excites him, only want records from the label's big names. He likes the idea of DJing and producing more again, but he isn't sure he's interested in doing the kind of self-promotion it would require. Besides, it's not immediately apparent when he'd have the chance to do any of it.
"With being in the military, running the label and the job—I make time for my daughter, but I definitely don't have time for myself." Still, you sense that as much as Grant toys with winding things down and just being a regular dad with a regular job, he plays around with where Moods & Grooves might go next. More than anything else, it was talk about the way forward that seemed to motivate him. "I'm still constantly trying to expand," he told me. "I'll say that."
From the classics to more recent signings, Mike Grant weaves together the full range of his label's moods and grooves..
Filesize: 257.3 MB
Pirahana Head feat Divinit/Lisiere Collectif - Poem 4 a Lost One/E - 1208 - 13
Hidden Spheres - The Bloos
Theo Parrish - Chunky
Joe Le Bon feat Elsye – Why Dogs Sing
KDJ - Untitled 2
Mike Grant - Sunlight
Cool Peepl - Free (Andres Remix)
Kyle Hall - Tomorrow Is The Day
Abicah Soul meets GU - Negro Yosoy Peligro
Brad Peterson - Deepness Is A Way Of Life
Glenn Underground - Soft Cell
Alton Miller - Ngizo Ku Linda (Abicah Soul Deep Mix)
Black Music - Lost Of Love
Cool Peepl – Free (Mr. G remix unreleased)
Phaze Dee - Game Of Life (unreleased)
Rick Wade - Summer Nights
Digital Funk Addicts - Higher Level
Joe Le Bon - 82 Degrees
Brian Harden – Matrix
Pirahana Head feat Diviniti – Poem 4 A Lost One (Mr. G’s Brotherly Love Mix)
Mike Grant – My Soul, My Spirit (Mr. G’s Freedom Train Mix)
In our latest film in collaboration with SONOS, we hear about the difficult questions over race and identity that have shaped one of Paris's brightest new stars.
Top 10 August 2015 Festivals
Here are our ten favourites happening in August.
Machine Love: Atom TM
Live from MUTEK 2015 in Montreal, Uwe Schmidt offers a peek into his HD Live audiovisual show.
RA Sessions: Octave One
One of techno's best live acts bring the heat.
Label of the month
Label of the month: Brutaż
This Polish label and party intentionally pushes dance music beyond its comfort zone. Elissa Stolman catches up with its curator, RRRKRTA.
Label of the month: Latency
Oli Warwick profiles the immaculately curated French label that tries to programme its catalogue like a DJ set.
Label of the month: The Trilogy Tapes
We toast to a decade of Will Bankhead's label, an exceptionally curated outlet for noise, techno, house, drone and much more.
Label of the month: Growing Bin Records
Gabriel Szatan spends a day in Hamburg with the deeply eccentric label boss behind this deeply eccentric label.
Label of the month: SlapFunk Records
Matt Unicomb speaks to a Dutch collective that's laser-focussed on house music's most essential goal: making dance floors move.